Spam sucks. So does physical junk mail. And I get a crap-ton of it on a regular basis (that's the official measurement scale for junk mail, really).
Here's why I get so much more garbage than my family and friends: I registered a domain name. Actually, I've registered hundreds of them over the years, but all it takes is one to let the spammers get your scent. And once they know how to reach you, they'll hound you with crappy SEO service pitches, offers to sell you domain names, and sometimes outright scams telling you that you'll lose your domain if you don't pay them for some nonexistent service.
How Spammers Get Your Personal Information
When you register a new domain name, you have to provide your contact information. This goes into a database known as WHOIS. The information in this database is public.
Spammers often harvest this data, which includes your name, mailing address, email address, and phone number. So yes, registering a domain name can contribute to telemarketer calls too.
Domain Name Privacy Services
Most, if not all, registrars give you a chance to protect this personal information with WHOIS privacy services. Some domain registrars charge extra for this. Others offer it for free (like NameSilo, which now holds the majority of my domain registrations as I've been moving away from GoDaddy).
What these services do is replace your information with a forwarding service or their company's information (depending on whether you use a privacy service or a proxy service for this). I use these kinds of services for most of my smaller sites' domain names, or at least those with NameSilo.
An Alternative to Protect Your Contact Information
But what if you don't want to pay extra and your registrar doesn't offer this service for free? Or what if you don't want someone else's information in WHOIS records because you want to preserve the trust factor? (Hidden WHOIS data is common among scammers' websites -- an image you might not want to associate yourself with. And if you have contact information publicly available on your website anyway, as a freelancer or someone selling physical products might, it can make a lot of sense to have matching information in your website's records.)
This is my preference for bigger sites. And in this case I protect my "real" contact information (meaning my direct contact information) by:
- Using a PO Box from a neighboring town for physical mail for my business (this is extremely cheap where I live, but your mileage may vary -- it could be worthwhile if you would otherwise have to pay for domain privacy for several domain names each year);
- Using a Google Voice number for my phone number, where the worst telemarketers can do is leave a voicemail that I delete (and most don't even bother to do that);
- Using a dedicated email address only for WHOIS records, so I can more easily filter anything coming from WHOIS-harvested lists.
So there you have it -- two different ways you can protect your personal information from spammers the next time you register a domain.
Do you already protect your information in WHOIS records? If so, what's your preferred method and why?
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